If Monday October 19th, 1981 was Blue Monday, then September 29th, 2004 was Black Wednesday.
The latter date marks the final time the Montreal Expos took a Major League Baseball field under that name. It marked the last time Montreal held a regular season professional baseball game.
It was the final time Montrealers cheered (and cried) for Nos Amours. For several years, many believed that baseball would never be back, that Montreal was not a viable market, and that the fans in Montreal did not even deserve a second chance considering the massive drops in attendance over the final few seasons of the team's existence.
Ten years later, the mindset surrounding the return of baseball toMontreal has changed significantly. Fan support (albeit mostly on social media) has risen significantly. Influential and well-known reporters around Canada - and more importantly, south of the border - have championed the movement to move a team back to Montreal. Groups have been formed to raise awareness in the fight to get the team back (notably through the Montreal Baseball Project). Most importantly, though, was the incredible showing by Montreal's fans when the Blue Jays and Mets played an exhibition game at the Big O last summer.
Baseball fever is alive and well in Montreal, and the longing for baseball has never been as palpable as it is right now. Many wonder about the viability of a new franchise in Quebec - undoubtedly, many financial and logistical issues need to be dealt with in order to facilitate a return to Montreal, but it's important to keep in mind that this isn't a small town trying to achieve a big dream. Montreal has not only already proven very capable of housing a Major League franchise, it's also a bustling metropolitan city seemingly on the rise after several years of political tension and uncertainty.
There are only a few pieces missing to complete this puzzle, but for now there are still plenty of reasons justifying the full-time return of baseball to Montreal.
15 Past Successes
The past successes of the Montreal Expos fall down to the bottom of the list because they are just that - past successes. They should be noted, but not relied upon as a main reason for bringing a team back to Montreal. In the franchise's best days, the Expos pulled in big crowds, we're a relevant entity not only in the city but around the league, and the idea of relocation was the farthest things from the minds of owners, management, players and most importantly, the fans. The former Montreal franchise proved that a Major League team was sustainable and profitable for a significant period of time, and there's no reason to believe that a properly run organization would not succeed this time around.
14 The Toronto Blue Jays
The Toronto Blue Jays land on the list as yet another secondary reason. As the only Canadian team currently in Major League Baseball, the Expos return would not only re-establish a great baseball city as part of the big leagues, but would also reignite a flamed out rivalry. While the two sides were in different leagues when the Expos were around, there was still the title of Canada's best team up for grabs every time they squared off. If it happens to be the Tampa Bay Rays that move to Montreal, not only would the natural Canadian rivalry be revived, the 15+ games between the two would create a whole new type of rivalry that could possibly one day rival the one between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
13 "Terrace Life"
If you ask any Montrealer what they enjoy doing on a warm summer night, there's a good chance one of the things they might say is that they enjoy taking advantage of the short summers to sit outside on one Montreal's many terraces while enjoying a cold beer. For those who live in constantly warm climates, this may not seem like a big deal - but for a European-style city with long, harsh winters, "terrace life" is a highlight of many Montrealers' summers. Throw a professional sport into that equation and Montreal's new stadium would become Montreal's biggest terrace - a place where even non-baseball fans can enjoy the night sky, a couple of steamees and an ice cold bière.
12 A New Stadium
This heading should come with a subtitle - there is currently no "new" stadium to speak of. The Olympic Stadium, for all Montrealers care, can't be given the dynamite treatment soon enough. The biggest blunder in Montreal Expos history is a sore thumb on a (mostly) picturesque city, but a new outdoor stadium can flip that stigma on its head. The idea is not to point out that the new stadium is currently a reason to bring back the team, but the idea that there would undoubtedly be a new stadium is enough reason to consider Montreal as a viable relocation destination.
11 The Brand
For years, people wondered what in the world the Expos logo stood for, what it was supposed to represent, and what it meant. Most see the clear, unique "M" logo the design makes. The Expos logo was never really revered or celebrated, that is, until the team left. While you'll always find a healthy dose of Expos caps and jerseys circulating around the city, the brand itself has grown its own "cult-like" following around North America - you'll find more people sporting the Expos brand as a fashion statement than you ever would when the team was around. Imagine what would happen if the team did come back? Merchants would not be able to keep up with the demand (there are no numbers supporting this, though).
10 The Demise of Tampa Bay Rays
Contrary to what many think, Montrealers are not "happy" that the Rays are proving to be unsustainable in the Sunshine State. As a city that has already gone through relocation, you'd be hard pressed to find many Montrealers who are openly happy that they might get a team back at the expense of another city. Having lived through the loss of the Expos, they know it was not a fun experience, and they don't not wish the same pain on any other sports fan.
That being said, Major League Baseball doesn't make money off not breaking hearts. It makes money by having teams in cities that can get fans in the stands, and despite having a fairly successful team the past few seasons, the Rays have not been able to pull in high enough attendance numbers to earn the confidence of Major League Baseball's top people. The lack of attendance in Tampa is the thing that opened this "can of worms" in the first place.
9 The Growth of Non-Traditional Sport in Canada
This might be a bit of a reach as a reason for the return of baseball to Montreal, but it's worth a mention, at the very least.
For decades, Canada has been viewed as one thing only: a hockey country. Was it (and is it still) warranted? Of course it is. Canada breathes, eats, and sleeps hockey. Recently, though, numbers have shown massive participation increases in "non-traditional" Canadian sports, specifically soccer and basketball. While the increased participation hasn't made much of a difference on the pitch, the meteoric rise of Canadian basketball cannot be ignored. The last two first overall picks in the NBA Draft, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, are both Canadian, and many others have begun to establish themselves as budding NBA stars. The rise of Canadian basketball can be, at least somewhat, related back to the relatively successful Vince Carter years of the Toronto Raptors - and it wouldn't be surprising to see a new wave come through Ontario thanks to the current popularity of the Toronto Raptors.
So who's to say the same can't happen with a return of the Montreal Expos? Baseball is still widely played throughout Quebec, and the return of baseball would only help grow the sport even further.
8 Denis Coderre
We usually don't make the direct association between politics and professional sports until there's a reason too, and if there ever is one it's usually for negative reasons. That's not the case here, as the election of Denis Coderre as Montreal's mayor has only helped the movement to bring baseball back to Montreal. A huge sports fan in his own right, Coderre has been vocal in his belief that Montreal is ready for a second shot at Major League Baseball, and has openly stated his support for the idea. It's another matter entirely if he can be a key cog in making it happen, but so far all signs point to Coderre being an integral and willing part of the process.
7 The Rise of Montreal as a Pro-Team City
When the Montreal Expos left in 2004, the overall Montreal sports landscape was one of the worst in North America. The hallowed Montreal Canadiens were coming off a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs - this was one of the few bright spots of a lengthy period of futility for the Habs. The Montreal Alouettes were consistently good, but were still practically in the infancy of their existence and were barely considered a professional sports team (similar to the rest of the Canadian Football League). The Major League Soccer version of the Montreal Impact only came to be a few years ago, so suffice to say, there wasn't much going on (or going right) for Montreal based sports teams.
Today, the Canadiens are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, the Alouettes are slowly but surely coming around after a rough start to "Life After Anthony (Calvillo)," and while the Impact were downright awful this season, they are at least a legitimate professional soccer team (compared to when they we're a glorified minor league entity). Some believe the addition of a baseball team would diminish the value of the Impact and Alouettes (as no one is touching the Canadiens), but the flipside of the argument is just as legitimate - how great would it be to go to a baseball game and then head over to Molson Stadium for some football, or perhaps take in a soccer game before heading to the Expos' new stadium?
Many are ignoring the possibility of these teams working together to prosper at the same time and instead choose to look at the negatives, that shouldn't be the case.
6 6. Bud Selig's Retirement
It's no secret that Bud Selig is not a well-liked man in Montreal. If it were not for the city's absolute disdain for Jeffrey Loria, Selig might be the most hated sports figure in Quebec (not named Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic or Brad Marchand). Selig deserves at least part of the credit (or as Montrealers would put it, the blame) for the Expos leaving in the first place, and there was virtually no chance they would be back under his watch. With Selig on the way out (and Rob Manfred on the way in), the chances of Montreal getting a team automatically rise (even if it's only by a small amount).
5 The Exhibition Games' Success
When Evenko announced that the city of Montreal would be hosting back-to-back exhibition games at the Big O, many assumed this way Major League Baseball's way of throwing Montreal a bone, a congratulatory gesture of sorts to Expos Nation, signed "good job so far, here's a taste."
Montrealers were given an inch, but they took a mile - over 96,000 people showed up to watch two meaningless games between a former rival and a mediocre National League team, and while they might have been meaningless in the standings, they meant quite a bit to those clamoring for the return of the Expos. To say that the city made a positive impression is an understatement - the city of Montreal sent quite the message to the league, and there's no doubt they took notice.
4 Montreal's Love of Baseball
This may seem like more of a follow up to the last point than anything else (there's only so many ways to say the same thing), but it bears repeating (or expanding on the point) that Montreal truly cares about the team - and sport - they lost in 2004. When hockey ends in Montreal, time moves like molasses. Sure, Montrealers take advantage of the summer months and certainly know how to make the most of it, but every year since 2004, there has been something missing. There's no doubt in my mind that Montreal would fully embrace (re-embrace?) America's favorite pastime in a way that would fully justify the return of the team to it's former home.
3 Fan Support
This point is not referring to the fan support that would (hopefully) accompany the return of the team. It's referring to the fan-base that is as strong as it has even been, despite the fact that there is no team to support (for now). It's hard to quantify a "buzz" in the city, but social media gives a good indication of the kind of support the Expos still have. The team's "official" Facebook page currently has over 172,000 likes, while the Twitter account is currently followed by close to 20,000 people. While these numbers don't come close to the followings of current Major League teams, it's still impressive for a team that is currently nothing more than a pipedream.
If those numbers aren't enough to convince you, consider the fact that an entire association has been created with the objective of reviving and sustaining the "Return of the Expos" (the Montreal Baseball Project), and that "Expos Nation" has gone to several stadiums to rally and show off their Expos colors in an attempt to draw attention to the efforts of fans in and around the city.
2 Build It and Sponsors Will Come
This point coincides with the number one reason why the Expos should be brought back to Montreal - we'll kill the drama and admit that both have to do with money. It's a bit sad that the business of sport will always mean that money is the final and ultimate end-game, but we takes the pros with cons.
The involvement of sponsors has less to do with money and more to do with belief in the viability of the franchise. While sponsorship money is important, what's more important is the association of a major corporation to a new Montreal franchise. If a team is moved here, they won't survive off a few partnerships with second-tier organizations. It will take the big names - Molson, Saputo, Quebecor, Bell, or any other major Montreal company - and their backing for people (most important Manfred and the rest of MLB's head honchos) to take the idea seriously.
1 Money, Money, Money
Again, this point builds off the last point, but from a different angle. While sponsorship dollars will be key, at the end of the day there are three dollar figures that will really make or break the return of baseball to Montreal.
The first is the relocation fee that Major League Baseball would post in the event that the league decides to move a franchise. This number would probably be in the hundreds of millions of dollars and would have to come out of the pocket of an owner with deep pockets. There's no doubt there are people in Montreal who can afford to write that cheque, or at least split the tab within a group of owners.
The second is the cost of a new stadium. That will also cost a pretty penny, and would most likely cost taxpayer money. This might be where Denis Coderre's influence factors into the equation, although it would probably involve higher levels of government as well.
The final - and perhaps most important number - is the amount of gate revenue (or expected revenue) generated by the team in the first season of its return - or the first few seasons, if we're looking a bit farther down the road. Major League Baseball won't lift a finger if they aren't 100% assured of a full (or very close to full) stadium.
Based on the push to get the team back over the past half-decade, I don't think Montrealers will have any problem meeting those demands.